Many companies embrace diversity, but fail to build a long lasting inclusive workplace environment because they focus too much effort on representation and not enough on integration.
In media, the theory is that an audience is distrustful of storytelling marketed as important to their needs when the messengers aren’t reflective of their community. I generally agree with and champion this position both in front of and behind the television camera. The same goes for radio, print and digital. It’s not enough to have forward facing talent be diverse if the editorial decision makers aren’t as well. After all, if the content is to be authentic than who best to develop and present such narratives than the people who walk in the same shoes as the target audience, right? Well, not always.
Managers acting as agents of change spend time on the optics of diversity, but not enough on diversity of thought. Playing the recruitment numbers game is like the rhetorical expression “you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.” I have yet to see evidence which demonstrates that say, just the hiring of more Hispanics in newsrooms will help those employees or a company’s performance in the marketplace.
The same applies to other disenfranchised groups. Providing emphasis on company priorities by slapping labels like African-American, LGBTQ, fill-in-the-blank initiatives are well intended, but the impact is often the increased marginalization of those communities. Those practices create silos which patronize minority staffers and alienate the ones who aren’t diverse.
For example, the presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump ignited the illegal immigration debate like never before. Much of the recent roundtable debates on news television programs focus on Trump’s promise to build a border wall and forcing the Mexican government to pay for it. Often the journalists assigned to these types of stories, studio guests and people interviewed are Mexican or at the very least Hispanic. But where are these experts when the topics of discussion are about healthcare, education and the economy?
Those are important issues which affect all people who live in the United States and different perspectives should be included as part of the overall discussion. When a person’s value is only stamped by what’s visible (race, gender, age, etc.); their true worth is undermined.
I am a 47 years old, second generation Peruvian-American, born in northern New Jersey, living in Central Connecticut, married for 16 years to a Colombian native and father to a 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. That’s just a balcony view of who I am. My gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation are examples of inherent diversity; what I was born with. My education, work experience and language skills are examples of acquired diversity; what I have learned. Inherent and acquired diversity are powerful in developing leadership skills which promotes a workplace that encourages inclusion and rears innovation.
A study by the Center For Talent Innovation found that leaders with this two dimensional (2D) diversity mindset were successful in increasing business and managing costs. The combination of inherent and acquired diversity drives inclusive leadership behavior like valuing differences of opinion, delegating responsibility, sharing credit and encouraging risk taking. This is how transformative captains are successful in bringing the entire team together in achieving and being accountable for workplace diversity and inclusion.
If the only people entrusted with initiatives aimed at minority groups are members of that community themselves than the enterprise runs the risk of producing what it is trying to change, groupthink. Realizing these types of business imperatives are the responsibility of everyone in the office. Too often employees who are not part of a minority group don’t feel corporate initiatives focused on those groups are for them. I would even go as far as saying they don’t feel welcomed in to the conversation.
Every Hispanic Initiative committee I’ve ever been a part of consisted of only Hispanic members. While these groups provided key insights on the complexities of the underrepresented community; they did not benefit from the debate which different backgrounds and perspectives would bring.
And it’s not just about injecting creative tension. Who would be the better equally qualified candidate to lead a marketing project focused on educating the Mexican community in Los Angeles about changes to healthcare: A Mexican-American who’s not from L.A. or a non-diverse candidate who lives and works in the city with relationships to the target community? In this case influence is more important than reflection.
It is imperative that everyone in the workplace be an integral part in achieving the possibilities which corporate culture change promises otherwise diversity is only skin-deep.
*this blog was written for PRSA’s Diversity column Tactics